Two siblings go on a quest together, facing difficulties and fighting inner demons as they embark on adventure… Does that sound familiar? The tried-and-true plot structure of new film Onward is reminiscent of Disney-Pixar movies past, yet director Dan Scanlon ensures there is sufficient enchantment, emotion, and eccentricity to be found, more than making up for any predictability or platitudes.
Perhaps the most genius element of Onward is its setting: a world that once possessed magic, now transformed by the advent of technology such as electricity, automobiles, and the mobile phone. No longer do elves enchant, fairies fly, and centaurs canter; instead, they abandon their unique gifts in favour of mundane monotony. The setting elevates the movie’s message of self-love and celebration of individuality and reminds viewers of the magic our own world has lost to a culture of immediacy and, often, uniformity.
Though the protagonist, Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland), is an elf, his family situation is unfortunately not unheard of: Ian and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) are raised by a single mother (Julia Louis-Drefyus) who was widowed by the death of her husband shortly before Ian’s birth. While Ian fears everything around him, the magic-game obsessed Barley is not afraid of anything. The brothers are given a wizard’s staff, phoenix crystal, and spell from their late father on Ian’s 16th birthday. Ian performs the spell, which is meant to resurrect his father for a day. His newfound magical ability, however, is not powerful enough to complete the spell, so only his father’s legs are brought back from the dead. Thus, the two brothers and their father’s legs go on a quest to find another crystal with which to finish resurrecting their father, encountering danger and insecurity along the way.
The plot can be slow-moving and superfluous at times. It feels long for its 102 minutes, and the buildup to the zenith of the action might bore some younger viewers. However, there is plenty of conflict and misadventure afoot, which makes even unnecessary scenes entertaining. There is a phenomenal balance between action and more heartfelt moments, leaving the audience laughing one moment and crying the next. Though movies centred around boys often lack the same emotion as those focused on girls, Onward does a beautiful job of illustrating love, bereavement, and sacrifice in a way that appeals to everyone. The themes of self-love and familial bonding despite hardships and insecurities are expertly woven into the film, augmented by the skilled voice acting of the cast and the richly coloured animations. By the end, the audience is sad to leave such a beautifully crafted world.
Onward, despite its slow pace and predictability, is an incredible film for all ages. Entertaining enough for children and moving enough for adults, the movie is well-suited for any family to watch over and over again.
Onward is released nationwide on 6th March 2020.
Watch the trailer for Onward here: